On Monday May 23rd, the seventh annual Lilly Awards were held at the off-Broadway Signature Theatre. The red carpet was fun and casual as artists across all theatrical disciplines posed for photos. Looking around the lobby of the theater, one was surrounded by a warm community of passionate artists who are also active forces of change in the industry, such as Danai Gurira and Diane Paulus. I briefly spoke with two of the night’s honorees, Jessie Mueller and Kathy Najimy.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given or something someone’s said that’s really resonated with you?
JESSIE MUELLER: (Laughing) Simply don’t let people f**k with you. Stay your course.
How does it feel to be honored at the Lilly Awards today?
KATHY NAJIMY: It feels great! You know, in this business, we get a lot of prizes here and there, but this one is really important and special to me because it has the word “activism” in it. A lot of times, as an actress, you might get recognized for a role you did or a movie that was popular that you maybe didn’t do that much in or whatever, and because I am an activist first before an actress, this means so much to me. I love that they’re both in the same sentence because I am an actress and an activist. When Amanda Greene said, “Oh they wanna give you an award!” I said, “What for?” and she said, “The actress-activist-whatever award,” I thought, “Wow that’s a good day.”
How do you manage to balance the art and acting with activism because I can imagine they come up against each other.
KN: I don’t think anybody balances anything. I just got asked to speak somewhere and I go, “What do you mean me to speak about?” and they said, “We want you to speak about how you balance being a mother, a wife, an activist, an actress…” and I said, ”
Oh, stop right there. You assume that anyone in the world is able to do that.” I don’t know that that’s the goal because it’s never balanced. So you just sort of do what you do that day and then you’re tired and then the next day you do the next thing. It’s not ever perfectly balanced–the parenting, the apartment owning, the New York living, the activist, the actress, health, nutrition. That day you do where your heart takes you.
Who is someone that inspires you?
KN: Well you know, obviously tonight, my friend Gloria Steinem is here and she’s giving me the award and she’s really inspired me since I was fourteen years old when I reached up for the first Ms. Magazine and realized there were other people out there like me. In those days, there wasn’t the internet so you just thought you were the only one with crazy ideas. My mother, I know people say that, but I would say Gloria Steinem.
The Lilly Awards honor the extraordinary contributions made to the American Theater by women, as well as announce the $25,000 Stacey Mindich Prize, which funds a new work by a female playwright, and the Leah Ryan Prize, which awards an annual cash prize to an emerging woman playwright and produces a reading of the winning play in New York City.
Writer, political activist, and feminist organizer, Gloria Steinem, along with Academy Award-winner and 2016 Tony Award nominee Lupita Nyong’o and the women of Eclipsed, presented awards to honorees including Tony Award-winner and 2016 Tony Award nominee Jessie Mueller, Kathy Najimy, Genne Murphy, Candis Jones, Rehana Lew Mirza, and the women of Waking the Feminists. Other presenters included Lloyd Suh, Russell G. Jones, Rachel Chavkin, and Neena Beeber. The Lilly Awards also recognized Norbert Leo Butz and his organization, The Angel Band Project, as well as boasted special musical performances by Rebecca Naomi Jones, Amanda Green, and Georgia Stitt.
The Lilly Awards were started in the Spring of 2010 as a way to honor the work of women in the American Theater. The founders of The Lillys are Julia Jordan, Marsha Norman and Theresa Rebeck. The awards are named for Lillian Hellman, a pioneering American playwright who famously said “You need to write like the devil and act like one too when necessary.”
For additional information about the Lilly Awards (including a list of all past recipients), visit www.thelillyawards.org.